Screenshot of the event. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Scaling up innovation and partnerships to modernize African food systems

Screenshot of the event. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Screenshot of the event. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Pearl millet and sorghum are the staple food crops in Sahelian countries with 80% of cultivated area and more than 49% of food consumption needs being covered by these crops. “Putting the required tools and technologies in the hands of farmers to achieve food security has already led to increased supplies of valuable goods and services, higher cash incomes and better employment opportunities for youth and women,” according to Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director, West and Central Africa, ICRISAT.

The enormous contribution of sorghum and millet crops and latest agricultural technologies towards food security in Africa was highlighted at a recent event. Attending the event as a panelist, Dr Tabo said, “Millets and sorghum are the food crops of the future, especially considering climate change–related challenges. We have the opportunity and responsibility to contribute towards the transformation of Africa into a food-sufficient continent that produces nutritious by-products from climate-resilient crops.”

Dr Tabo was speaking about the Sorghum and Millets Compact of the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) program of the African Development Bank (AfDB), at a side event of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) organized by TAAT.

In three years, the Sorghum and Millets Compact helped produce:

  • Breeder seeds (8.58 t sorghum; 4.04 t millet)
  • Foundation seeds (261 t sorghum; 157 t millet)
  • Certified seeds (1,448 t sorghum; 828 t millet)
  •     and execute capacity building:
  • Training in agricultural enterprise development for 12,657 beneficiaries (25% women, 19% youth);
  • Training in improved post-harvest technologies for 5,072 beneficiaries (37% women);
  • Linkage of farmers and their organizations to input and output markets facilitated for 51,442 farmers and primary processors.

“One of the achievements of the Sorghum and Millets Compact towards strengthening food systems is the enhancement of the seed sector through best genotypes.”

The contribution of the Sorghum and Millets Compact included building farmers’ capacities with proven technologies to overcome the challenges of low productivity and production. As a consequence, it has helped increase value chain efficiency through the reduction of post-harvest losses as well higher product quality, aggregation, traceability and transformation in sorghum and millet value chains. The Compact helped strengthen the seed sector in collaboration with research institutions, seed companies and seed producers. (See box)

To face challenges of worsening climatic conditions and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Tabo emphasized that millet and sorghum value chains represent substantial opportunities to take to scale climate-smart solutions for more balanced diets, increased food and nutrition security, sustainable food systems and resilience among the rural population.

“This summit is an opportunity to showcase what we have achieved in the last three years with limited funds and to build momentum towards more concerted action at the local, national and global levels. We are using the scope of this event to release information about the UN International Year of Millets in 2023. We hope this framework will help to support and upscale action of agricultural stakeholders in agri-food recovery phase. It will also give voice to a wide range of agricultural stakeholders and be a platform where lessons learned and good practices recommendations will be shared,” said Dr Tabo.

Other panelists in the side event were Prof Bernadette Fregene, TAAT’s Aquaculture Compact Leader, WorldFish, and Dr Robin Buchara, Senior Advisor, Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA).

“The Aquaculture Compact of TAAT aims at increasing fish production and productivity through identification and deployment of proven aquaculture technologies to ensure self-sufficiency in fish production and a reduction in fish imports. This is achieved through sustainable intensification of existing small and medium enterprises and large-scale aquaculture businesses in 12 African countries,” said Prof Fregene.

“In order to tackle iron deficiency in women and children, the Iron-Bean Compact leverages the partnerships of PABRA to mobilize different actors, the private sector and development partners to scale up and deliver some of the technologies associated with iron and beans,” explained Dr Buchara.

The highly interactive event had strong participant engagement through sharing of ideas on critical elements for addressing agricultural transformation in Africa, as well as research and innovation themes crucial for moving towards resilient food systems.

“A systems approach to address the challenges facing agricultural production, nutrition and market; scaling approaches for technological solutions through public-private partnerships, household nutrition through improved job creation; greater emphasis on the role of women and youth as well as improved agro-industrialization and trade will lead to wealth generation in various components of millet and sorghum value chains,” concluded Dr Tabo.

Prior to the panel discussion, in his opening remarks, Dr Alfred Dixon, Director of Development and Delivery, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and Representative of the Director of IITA, said, “It is becoming clear to all of us that Africa’s food systems are on a shaky foundation that requires urgent attention. The impact of the coronavirus in recent times has demonstrated the need for Africa to fortify its food systems. This meeting must come up with urgent and dramatic steps to salvage the food systems and put Africa on the path of self-sustenance and prosperity. For too long Africa has suffered from the vagaries of climate change, pests and diseases and ineffective food and market systems.”

“The bottlenecks are numerous,” said Dr Dixon. “On the flip side, there are also several innovations on the continent. This is the time to harness those innovations for Africa’s shared prosperity. TAAT is a classic example of the trajectory that Africa needs to take to address its food challenges. In a very short period, TAAT’s interventions in several African countries have lifted millions out of poverty, creating jobs and wealth, and more importantly, addressing the question of hunger and malnutrition. As we deliberate on this subject, I urge you to identify partnership models for modernization of Africa’s food systems.”

Dr Martin Fregene, Director of Agriculture and Agro-industry, AfDB, made a keynote presentation on innovative pathways and partnerships for modernizing African food systems. “The topic of innovative pathways and partnerships for modernizing African food systems couldn’t have come at a better time. COVID-19 has really convulsed Africa’s food systems, wherein restriction of movement has led to farmers being unable to get inputs to their farms, to aggregation, and processing,” he said. “A lot of perishable food like vegetables and fruits have been lost in the farms, all the way to distribution and marketing. Therefore, we need to focus on modernizing processing, clustering production and value-addition. These agricultural agro-processing clusters include clustering farmers and processors along the infrastructure backbone.

Dr Fregene also emphasized the need to modernize consumption (nutrition), “We have to emphasize things like fish, vegetables and fruits to modernize consumption. Countries which are making efforts to diversify food, ensuring proper nutrition for mothers and lactating women, have witnessed a big reduction in malnutrition among children.”

Dr Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General for Partnerships, IITA, explained the two main roles of TAAT: a) to significantly raise agricultural productivity and b) to move African production much higher on the value chain, with agribusinesses producing and selling processed goods and not simply basic commodities. “TAAT uses value chain approaches to solve real-life problems to increase productivity and incomes to farming communities,” he said.

The closing remarks of the event were given by Dr Innocent Musabyimana, Head of the TAAT Clearinghouse, responsible of vetting and profiling technologies and packaging them appropriately so that the government and end users can take them to the farmers. “Achieving sustainable food systems on the continent will only happen through a strong partnership. Working with the CG centers and other specialized institutions, the Clearinghouse supports the governments to formulate their programs by integrating proven technologies that counter the different challenges they are facing.”

The overall event was moderated by Dr Kwesi Atta Krah, Director, Advocacy and Country Alignment, IITA.

The event mentioned in this article, the talk: ‘Scaling up innovation and partnerships to modernize African food systems’ was held on 7 July 2021 for the Independent Food Systems Dialogue.

Reported by:

Ms Agathe Diama, Head Regional Information,

With inputs from

Ms Rajani Kumar, Sr Communication Officer, ICRISAT.

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